Paris (AFP)

Indispensable for a host of essential activities, electricity production is being organized to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic, even if the situation deteriorates.

With containment measures and the slowdown in activity, electricity consumption is currently down 15% from normal, according to the RTE network manager.

"But even if there is a significant drop in consumption, it is essential to maintain a certain level of electricity production", observes Florent Nguyen, of the cabinet Oresys.

"Today, all of the normally available means of production are available," he said.

Electricity, essential for many activities (starting with hospitals) is considered of vital importance by the government. With one difficulty: unlike gas or oil, it is not stored and must be produced in real time.

EDF is thus organized so that its nuclear power plants - which supply more than 70% of electricity in France - operate despite the spread of the virus.

"Today, even in our most pessimistic plans, we think we are able to produce enough electricity for all French people at any time," Jean-Bernard Lévy, CEO of EDF, recently pointed out on Europe 1.

- "Ultimate" solutions -

The group, which had set up a "pandemic plan" in the early 2000s, estimates that it can operate its facilities even with 40% absenteeism for 2 to 3 weeks and with 25% fewer staff for 12 weeks.

"We have put teams green," said one at EDF. If a shift team were to be contaminated, a reserve team without any contact with the previous one would take over.

As a last resort, EDF can use its Rapid Action Nuclear Force (FARN), an emergency response unit created after the Fukushima disaster (2011) and capable of taking control of any reactor. It would however be an "ultimate" solution, specifies EDF.

In the meantime, with cases of coronavirus detected in several nuclear power plants, measures have been taken to limit the risks of further contamination.

"Everyone who can be teleworked is," said the group. The workforce is reduced to a minimum at nuclear, hydraulic and thermal production sites.

In the nuclear power plants, measures have been taken: elimination of internal shuttles, more frequent cleaning, sanctuarization of the control room where the teams that control the reactor take turns ...

In Flamanville (Manche), where the two reactors are currently shut down, EDF has even gone further due to several potential cases of new coronavirus and only admits a hundred people to the site, compared with around 800 usually.

- "Right of alert" -

However, the measures taken are not enough to reassure employees. "Obviously there is a psychosis," says Thierry Raymond, CGT central union delegate at EDF.

Concern recently focused on radioactivity detection gates, through which all workers must pass when leaving a nuclear zone. Some feared they could catch the virus in these cramped cabins.

"There have been alert rights issued by employees in relation to these control gates", but "a procedure has been implemented by the management which requires more frequent cleaning and the wearing of gloves instead of have your bare hands in the equipment, "says Thierry Raymond.

With the containment, EDF has also announced a "reshuffle" of its shutdown program, normally intended to ensure the maintenance of the reactors so that they can operate at full capacity during the following winter, when consumption is at the highest.

"Even if the system is currently demonstrating its robustness and resilience in the face of a pandemic of this nature, the duration of the crisis will probably depend on the ability to ensure supply / demand balance during consumption peaks for the next winter," observes Florent. Nguyen, from Oresys law firm.

© 2020 AFP